Takanabe Daishi 高鍋大師
In Takanabe Town, on the coast in northern Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu, is a very unusual collection of monumental sculptures, almost certainly quite unlike any you will have seen before.
There is no shortage of statuary in Japan. Since Japan's modernization in the late 19th century a tradition of erecting memorial statues to statesmen and other famous figures, many from history, has spread, and from the latter half of the 20th century modern art sculptures have been placed in many public spaces, but the vast majority of statues in Japan belong to the Buddhist tradition.
Many of these statues are truly exquisite and sublime, rightly being acknowledged as among the greatest statues in the world, and even though their names are not as well known as famous Japanese painters, there have been numerous master sculptors in Japan over the past millennium.
However, if you venture out into the more remote areas you will find statues that definitely belong to the "folk" tradition, being made not by professional artists, but by farmers who, not being able to afford the services of sculptors tried their hand at carving.
Often crude and childlike, at times these folk sculptures do manage to capture a raw energy and vitality and can be worth a look.
History of Takanabe Daishi
What we have here at Takanabe is over 700 statues scattered over a hillside and hilltop that mostly belong to the latter category.
The man behind them was a Mr. Yasukichi Iwaoka who was born nearby in 1890. As a young man he went over to Shikoku and walked the 1,200 kilometre Ohenro Pilgrimage.
When he got back he was so moved by the experience that he vowed to create a miniature version of the pilgrimage locally. Hundreds of such mini-pilgrimages exist all over Japan, consisting of 88 statues each one representing one of the 88 temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
The opportunity to fulfil his vow came some years later, after he had amassed enough funds through his success as a rice merchant. He hired a stone carver to produce the 88 statues, and while the carver worked he watched and studied him and then once the 88 statues were complete, Yasukichi continued to make statues, some becoming quite monumental in scale, though still primitive compared to the original 88 made by the professional.
The statues were erected next to a group of ancient burial mounds that had been disturbed by looters. It was Yasukichi's wish to comfort the souls of the buried. A path winds up the hillside and then back down.
The original 88 statues are laid out along the path with many of Yasukichi's dotted around them, but the bulk of the larger, stranger, statues are on top of the hill, from where you can look down on Takanabe below and the ocean beyond.
There are some Buddhist figures: a giant multi-armed, multi-faced Kannon Goddess of Mercy, one of Kobo Daishi, the Japanese "saint" who the Shikoku Pilgrimage is dedicated to and a large Fudo Myo-O surrounded by many smaller versions
But, surprisingly, many of the larger statues are of kami and not Buddhas.
Prior to the creation of the new religion of Shinto, separate from Buddhism in the late 19th century, at the beginning of the Meiji Period, kami were almost never represented in visual form, however the new Shinto, did begin to create painting and sculptures of kami, but mostly influenced by the Western tradition.
The kami statues here look more like a cross between the statues of Easter Island and Native American "Totem Poles."
Also on top of the hill is a Daishi Hall dedicated to Kobo Daishi, filled with smaller statues of many types, and a small Inari Shrine with its distinctive row of vermilion torii gates in front.
Takanabe Daishi Access
Koyu-gun, Miyazaki 884-0005
Tel: 0983 22 5588
There is no entrance fee to visit Takanabe Daishi, and it is located about 400 meters West of Route 10, and about 5km from Takanabe Station on the JR Nippo Line. Takanabe Station is 20 minutes by Limited Express (1,180 - 1700 yen) or 30 minutes by local train (560 yen) from Miyazaki Station in the direction of Nobeoka. The Japan Rail Pass is valid on this route.
The local train station and hotels in the area all carry free leaflets on Takanabe Daishi and the statues, but only in Japanese.